Sunny Desai – Founder & Principal, Desai Hotel Group

Sunny Desai has over ten years of experience with developing and managing like-kind hotels and has successfully operated six hotels since 2009. Desai is the principal and founder of Desai Hotel Group, LLC. He is responsible for providing strategic leadership for the company by working with the executive management team to establish long-term goals, strategies, plans, and policies that will aid in the advancement of the company. He oversees company operations to ensure alignment with its mission and objectives and to promote revenue, profitability, and growth as an organization.

Mr. Desai is a Make-A-Wish Mississippi board member, Downtown Jackson Partners Advisory board member, and a Young Advisory Alumni Council member for Mississippi State University. Some of his accomplishments include having been recognized as a recipient of Hotel Management Magazine’s “Thirty Under 30”, and most recently, as one of the recipients of Mississippi Business Journal’s Top CEO Awards. He is also a Mississippi Licensed Real Estate Broker and a Mississippi Licensed Contractor.

Mr. Desai graduated Summa Cum Laude from Mississippi State University’s undergraduate double major program in 2008 with an emphasis in Real Estate and Banking & Finance. After finishing Mississippi State University’s MBA program in 2010, he founded Desai Hotel Group at the age of 24.

DHG is a fast-growing hotel development and investment company based in Jackson, Mississippi. Driven by the continuously changing environment of the hospitality industry, DHG specializes in developing and investing in high quality, select service hotel assets throughout the Southeastern United States. Our unique organization is structured around the core values of Knowledge, Appreciation, Revolutionary, Morale and Authenticity. DHG’s mission is to continue to strive for perfection and growth throughout the intellectual development of our team with an emphasis on accountability throughout our organization. DHG currently owns and operates six hotels in Mississippi, two hotels in Louisiana, and has three projects in the pipeline located in the states of Tennessee and Mississippi.

How did the concept for Desai Hotel Group come about?
It honestly came by accident. I had no idea what I wanted to do after college, but I knew I didn’t want to work for someone else. My father wanted to build a hotel, and I figured I would spearhead that for him while I found my own path. At the end of the project, I fell in love with real estate development. Every day was different with new challenges. After the first hotel, I found the next deal and started raising capital. Ten years later, here we are.

How was the first year in business?
I spent the first year of the business working on the new hotel and getting my MBA. It was more of an educational period than a growth period. I needed to learn the basics of the industry.

What was your marketing strategy?
Free press and a website. They both make you look credible. As a bootstrapped company, we had very little money to invest in marketing. Almost all of our money was spent on the website. Other than that, we used social media to try to gain exposure.

How fast did the company grow during the first few years?
I was the only employee for the first three years, and it was all a blur. I had no idea what I was doing, but I was learning a lot from my mistakes. I was like a sponge soaking up as much knowledge as I could about the industry. There was little growth in the first three years. In my third year, I finally opened my second hotel which happened to be my most successful venture to-date.

How do you define success?
I think success has different meanings for different people. For me, success is continuously pushing myself to get better every year. It’s also making the people around me better. I’ve had people tell me that I’ve accomplished a lot for my age, but I feel like I’m just getting started. My definition of success is the endless pursuit of perfection.

What is the key to success?
I think there are two keys: hard work and integrity. Nothing in life worth having comes easy. If it does come easy, then you won’t truly appreciate it. Failure from hard work turns into a learning experience. All you have to do is learn how to do it better next time. Integrity is the foundation of all great leaders. You have a lot of choices in life. Choosing to take the route with integrity is often harder. Hard work and integrity both pay dividends in the long run.

What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
Trust should be earned, not given. Early in my career, I was quick to trust people thinking everyone had the best intentions in mind. It wasn’t until people starting turning their backs on me when times got tough when I realized I blindly put trust in people that didn’t deserve it.

What are some quotes that you live by?
“Live as if you were to die tomorrow, learn as if you were to live forever.” – Mohandas Gandhi

“It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.” – Warren Buffett

What are some of your favorite books?
The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferris
Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl
Living Forward by Michael Hyatt

Tell me about one of the toughest days you’ve had as an entrepreneur.
On a single day in 2014, I found out that two loans that I had been working on for months got denied and that one of my projects was going over budget. I think I had a mini-panic attack. It eventually all worked out, but it gets really tough when multiple problems hit you at one time.

When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
I think the single biggest factor is the number of people that are depending on me. Everything changes when you start to realize that your decisions are going to impacts others’ lives. My company’s success will inevitably mean the team’s success.

What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
Take chances, learn from failures, and find mentors.

Jason Navallo

Jason Navallo is the author of five books: American Dream, Thrive, Never Give Up, Success, and Driven to Succeed. He has an M.B.A. in Human Resource Management from Louisiana State University and lives in NYC.